At midday prayer: Nuns wearing face masks in St. Peter's Square © Andrew Medichini
Corona crisis keeps Germany on tenterhooks for six months. The Catholic Church has also changed a lot. A look back.
Summer hole? There were times when the summer months rippled along uneventfully. "How long ago / there was nothing going on in these weeks / in a pleasant way" wrote Kurt Tucholsky at the end of August 1918. At that time, the First World War was drawing to a bitter end; the longing for peace and uneventfulness was great.
And the summer of 2020? Stands entirely under the sign of the Corona crisis. Exactly six months ago, on 27. January, Germany registered the first confirmed infection. On 9. March the first domestic deaths were reported. Since then, the world has changed dramatically. And even if Germany has so far escaped well, the worry about the second wave weighs on many shoulders. Also in the Catholic Church.
Painful Holy and Easter days
"We are still far from a normal state of affairs."According to Cathedral Dean Robert Kleine, Cologne Cathedral is currently experiencing a slow return to normality. "Normally, at the cathedral, during the peak of summer or even Advent, we record up to 25.000 visitors a day. At the moment we are reaching 9.000, which, however, is already a significant increase on the nearly 5.000 is that we counted at the beginning of July," Kleine told the Internet portal this site on Saturday.de.
Since mid-March, church life in Germany has been at a standstill. Public services, processions and other religious events were canceled – especially painful on Holy and Easter Days, White Sunday, as well as Pentecost, Ascension Day and Corpus Christi. Only since the beginning of May have churches again been able to celebrate more public services under strict corona protection measures.
Cardinal Woelki: "We take our responsibility"
While bans and strict conditions imposed by the state were initially accepted relatively without complaint, a debate soon developed about whether the churches should simply accept such restrictions on fundamental rights. "We take our responsibility and will ensure that no life is endangered," ared Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki on the one hand.
Like him, however, many bishops urged cautious openings in April. For example, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, said that in view of initial relaxation measures in other areas, he could not understand why public worship services should continue to be prohibited.
Church services may not be banned across the board
Particularly in the Corona crisis, the encroachment on religious freedom must be reviewed again and again, also demanded the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Thomas Sternberg. Houses of worship are "systemically relevant" because here people have the opportunity to process their fears. At the end of April, the Federal Constitutional Court also ruled that religious services could not be banned across the board if strict protective measures were observed.
Cathedral Dean Kleine commented that even during the shutdown, Cologne Cathedral had always been open to worshippers. This had also been a signal to the public. "As a church, we may not have systemic relevance in the sense that we keep the polity running, but we always have human relevance." Since mid-May, the cathedral was also reopened to the normal public traffic.
But there is still a long way to go before we can speak of normality. The consequences of the Corona crisis for the churches are only beginning to emerge. This applies to the assessment of digital worship services, but also to church tax revenues and the future of church educational institutions. A sting also remains from criticism by former Thuringian Prime Minister Christine Lieberknecht (CDU) that churches abandoned people during the shutdown – such as the elderly and the dying.
Kleine thinks it's conceivable that the Corona crisis will also have an impact on worship attendance. "Maybe it's really true: before Corona, many still went to Sunday Mass, at least out of a cherished tradition. In the meantime, however, they realize that they are not really missing anything essential without going to church as usual."